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The Best Writing Advice from SWW Authors


Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.
~ Emerson

What better writing advice than that given by a published author?

In the course of interviewing SouthWest Writers’ authors for this website, one of the questions I asked was, “What advice would you give to beginning or discouraged writers?” Here are the answers compiled from ten of the interviews posted in 2015.

The publishing world is competitive, but writing shouldn’t be. No two writers will ever tell a story exactly the same way. Don’t be afraid to help those around you, or to learn from others. If you’re not improving and having fun as a writer, you may as well move on to something else. One of my characters once told me, “If you ain’t havin’ fun, you’re just wastin’ space.” That has become my motto. ~ Sarah Baker

Bumblebee physiology is inconsistent with flight, so instead of flapping their wings up and down like a bird, they wave them in a figure eight pattern. Unwilling to walk from flower to flower, they achieve their goal by working with the laws of physics to find a way to fly. It’s the same with writing: if one avenue doesn’t pan out, find another. ~ Olive Balla

Writing can be a box with rigid structures that are demanding and restrictive to one’s creative nature. On the other hand, writing can be as fluid as the ink that flows unto the paper. It can become a vehicle that opens up doors to new worlds of possibility and to dreams that have never been expressed. My hope is that every writer who feels the need for more freedom chooses the latter. ~ S.S. Bazinet

Don’t wait until it’s perfect, because it’ll never happen. Obviously, it’s necessary to do a thorough job editing, but it’s too easy to get hung up on minor things and never get the job done. ~ Susan C. Cooper

Just begin. Trust yourself and your words. Forget many of the things you learned about “rules.” As Mark David Gerson suggests in The Voice of the Muse, there are 13 rules. The first is: There are no rules. The story exists and you are the vehicle which carries it. ~ Elizabeth Ann Galligan

Discouragement is part of the writing game. So is perseverance. And perseverance will eventually win (think Thomas Edison). My advice: Keep honing your craft. Join a critique group and learn to take criticism; after all, they’re readers, and writers need readers. Realize your writing isn’t sacred and not to be changed in any way; remember, you can’t see mistakes in your own writing—you’re too close. ~ Larry Greenly

Don’t give up. Find publishers who’ve issued books similar to yours. Develop a great query to send them, one that will get their interest enough that they’ll even read your submission. Create a first page that grabs them. ~ Joyce Hertzoff

People who write are called writers. People who wait are called waiters. I’d advise you to write every day, if only for the sheer pleasure of it. Don’t worry about the Great American Novel, etc. Enjoy what you do! Or find something else to do, life is too short. ~ Robert Kidera

Learn to reject rejection. Get used to the idea that there is going to be a lot of rejection along the way. The secret is to never give up. If one person tells you no, ask someone else. Someone, somewhere, sometime will say yes. Move on to the next person. Someone is waiting to say yes. ~ Gale O’Brien

Set both weekly and monthly goals/deadlines for yourself. Write them down and work diligently toward achieving them. Buy an appointment book and schedule time for writing, rewriting and research. Your “great expectations” will be easier to achieve when you have established in writing what they are. ~ Shirley Raye Redmond

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

Image “Light at End of Tunnel” courtesy of lkunl /

An Interview with Author Elizabeth Ann Galligan

Elizabeth Ann Galligan, Ph.D, is a poet and retired educator from Eastern New Mexico University who completed her first novel Secrets of the Plumed Saint (ABQ Press, 2012) at the age of 73. She has also co-authored the early childhood book Count on African Animals (2014), a precocious child’s introduction to counting and reading with photographs by Florence H. Kubota. Elizabeth’s poems and essays have appeared in Voices of New Mexico, Too (2013) and More Voices of New Mexico (2015, Rio Grande Books in collaboration with New Mexico Book Co-op), and in the Fixed and Free Poetry Anthology 2015. Visit her website at

Secrets of the Plumed SaintWhat is your elevator pitch for Secrets of the Plumed Saint?
Secrets of the Plumed Saint is a cozy mystery, a tale of intrigue, set in a high mountain valley in a small village in northern New Mexico in the 1970s. When the 100-year-old hand-carved statue of the Santo Niño de Atocha disappears from their chapel, the villagers are so embarrassed they decide to hide the secret from the Church hierarchy and try to find the culprits and discover their motives themselves.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I hope readers gain respect for the people of northern New Mexico who honor their traditions and survive in a difficult environment through hard work, mutual support, wits, and religious faith. I wanted to explore the effects of major demographic changes that occurred in the 1970s which brought in outsiders who disturbed the equilibrium of the village.

What unique challenges did your first novel pose for you?
Never having the notion to write a novel, as well as not having time to devote to writing, I had to wait until I retired in 2007 to pursue various forms. I had always thought I might try to write about a holy man, a hermit, who lived in the area where Secrets of the Plumed Saint is set. I thought I could write a biography, perhaps, but certainly not a mystery. Once I decided to start writing, I found friends, family, and other authors who encouraged me. Incredible serendipitous events started. The right people came along just when I needed their expertise and help. I believe the Santo Niño de Atocha had a hand in it, too.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Secrets of the Plumed Saint?
People often tell me they pass the book along to family and friends. They frequently buy multiple copies. One day a woman of 80 years bought 11 copies and sent them to all her family. She told me, “Your book gave me back my roots.” Her comment made all the effort, confusion, and insecurity about my first novel worthwhile.

What do you struggle with most in your writing? What are your strong points?
I write a lot of words just to get my ideas down. Some call it wordiness—not a good trait, especially in mysteries. The trick is to go back and force myself to be more concise and make better word choices. I try not to use the first trite phrase that comes easily. We all develop habits in our writing that include certain patterns which we must overcome. Two of my bad habits are using too many adjectives and too many commas. I count finishing the Plumed Saint manuscript at age 73 as one of my best achievements. During the process, I learned I could write dialogue and poetic prose. Since I love New Mexico, I have a strong sense of place which I try to evoke in my writing. Plotting the story and sequence are still challenges.

Has writing nonfiction helped you write better fiction?
In academic or expository prose accuracy matters, so I learned how to research topics. But academic writing is often dry and of interest to only a few scholars. The pickiness of academic writing now annoys me. Writers of either persuasion have to overcome the ingrained editorial angel (devil?) that sits on their shoulder and says their writing is not good enough.

How has your work as a poet influenced your fiction writing? What can other writers learn from poetry?
Just because I had written poetry, I did not assume I knew how to write fiction. My own style in the Plumed Saint tends toward the use of metaphors and similes tied to the setting of the story. Fast-moving stories are not for me. I like to meander through the words. Luckily, so do some readers. Most poetry emphasizes concise language forms. In that sense, other writers can learn from poets to make careful word choices. Poetry also invites symbolic language and encompasses suggestions of the mystical and other-worldly realms. In short, any writer can benefit from reading good poetry.

What are you working on now?
A historical novel is in progress, again set in northern New Mexico, a sequel to Secrets of the Plumed Saint. I also intend to write the fictionalized account of a portion of the life of holy man and preacher Giovanni Maria di Agostini, the Hermit of Hermit’s Peak in northern New Mexico. It will be based partially on recent scholarship from the Brazilian scholar Dr. Alexandre Karsburg who made the link between the “holy monk,” as he was known in Brazil, and “our” New Mexican sojourner. Some amazing new research by David G. Thomas adds depth to Dr. Karsburg’s research. My book in progress (working title Holy Enigma) is a novelization of the effects of the Hermit on the people of the time who came in contact with the itinerant Italian preacher. Memories and stories passed on orally (some documented) indicate the holy man’s impact in the northern New Mexico Territory around Las Vegas and in the southern part near Mesilla. The Hermit inhabited a cave near Dripping Springs in the foothills of the Organ Mountains from about 1867 until his murder in 1869. Who killed him and why remains a mystery to this day.

What advice do you have for other writers?
Just begin. Trust yourself and your words. Forget many of the things you learned about “rules.” As Mark David Gerson suggests in The Voice of the Muse, there are 13 rules. The first is: There are no rules. The story exists and you are the vehicle which carries it. However, your publisher will have rules you need to follow.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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